Donnerstag, 13. August 2009

the Church and Modernity

Here, I will attempt to dicuss what seem to me very plausible reasons for the decline of faith in our modern days. The reasons I speak of are the mode of preaching and the mode of prayer: lex praedicandi et lex orandi.

It is my firm conviction that the loss of faith can and should be blamed on us faithful also. We have a responsibility to actively spread and cultivate a culture of faith - a responsibility which many of us have compromised for the sake of modernity:

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men. You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:13-16)

Jesus teaches that we Christians are the salt, the light of this world: with our faith we show others the path unto righteousness - as a light shows the way in the dark; with our faith we add what is lacking for the world to be good - as salt gives taste to food.

What do we expect then when we neglect the fact that we are to be the salt and light of this world? We can expect nothing good from this - neither for ourselves nor for others.

Here, I will discuss - as said above - two areas of the Christian faith which have been affected negatively by modernism:
1) the mode of prayer
2) the mode of preaching

on the mode of prayer:

The mode of prayer includes our mode of worship and all external expressions of spiritual devotion. The way this mode has been affected by modernism is evident in almost every single parish of the Catholic world. One could point out the simple fact that many Catholics - including clerics - do not appreciate expressions of great devotion like e.g. kneeling during Holy Communion or receiving the Sacred Species on one's tongue instead of on one's hand. Likewise, we can experience that older, solemn hymns are rarely sung in the Liturgy, traditional prayers are almost totally unknown to the current generation of Catholics, the use of Latin has almost totally disappeared from our Liturgical practices, illicit "innovations" can be seen not rarely in Catholic Masses (including the mode of celebrating the Forma Ordinaria entirely versus populum, excessive use of female extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, the abandonment of the use of the talar and rochette by some altar servers, etc.), prayers and songs are sometimes "protestantized" for "ecumenism", etc. etc..
In summary, our lex orandi has been modified in a way to "fit the challenges of modern times". Most of these "innovations", however, have taken root not as something decreed or even appreciated by Rome - which is the source and rule of orthodoxy - but rather as being introduced "from below" (the Church is a hierarchy and is ruled from the top to bottom, not vice-versa); often times being contrary to the Tradition of the Church.

Now, how does this change in our prayer life affect the faith of other people and of Catholics as well? The answer is actually pretty simple: it is precisely connected to the quotation from the Gospel of St. Matthew as shown above: we are to be the salt and light of the world. This means that our way of living in and of itself should be likened to a prayer expressing also outwardly - i.e. to others; especially the non-believers - our devotion to Sacred Truth. If one prays in such a way that a spectator can easily recognize the sincerity of one's spirituality, then it is probable that the spectator - even if a non-believer - will be moved or "impressed" by such deep devotion. A prayer said with full conviction, a hymn sung with highest devotion, a Mass celebrated with utmost solemnity are akin to a song capable of touching the depths of the human soul. It is therefore not only by what we do, but also by how we do certain things that people around us will judge our deeds.
If one then - wishing not to be deemed "conservative" or "backwards" - "modernizes" his mode of prayer in such a way that it loses its "spice" (or "saltiness"), that is its outward expression of one's inner conviction, then what is to be expected of him who sees this person's mode of prayer? Certainly the spectator would not be moved by such a sight in any religiously positive manner. Instead, it seems more plausible to assume that our spectator would think that the person praying is not fully convinced of the truth he claims to believe in. His prayer is likened to "vain babbling": one says a lot, but what one says is void of meaning as it is void of sincerity.
Why then - one might ask - should a non-believer even be compelled to appreciate - much less to admire - such show of lacking faith? What is it in the showcasing of lacking trust in Sacred Truth that may permeate a spectator's soul? Nothing. On the contrary, such mode of prayer will be understood as an expression of the believer not taking his own faith seriously. If then the believer himself does not take his own faith seriously, why should the non-believer even consider it? The missionary aspect of the believer's life is then neglected. And what happens to other believers? Lex orandi, lex credendi: our mode of prayer reveals our faith. By submitting to a mode of prayer lacking full conviction, one's own faith will begin to waver: and as believers make up a communion, a community, such outward expression of lacking conviction will certainly not remain unnoticed amongst others: it will be the cause for ane eventual departure from the orthodox faith, and later - perhaps - even from the faith altogether.

All this for the sake of being "modern".

And Catholics wonder why there are not enough vocations?

I believe I have dealt enough with the mode of prayer. I shall continue to express my thoughts:

on the mode of preaching:

"Take heed to thyself and to doctrine: be earnest in them. For in doing this thou shalt save thyself and them that hear thee." (1 Timothy 4:16)

There are two serious errors not few clerics of these our times are guilty of - also for the sake of modernity:

1) abandoning the mode of preaching in an eplicitly orthodox manner
2) the use of "modern language" to "better convey the Good Message" to the modern man

to 1:

The first error is one which has become pretty obvious - especially after the Second Vatican Council. Now, let it be clarified, that I am not blaming the Council for these problems, but rather the unfaithful application of its decrees rooted in a false understanding of religious liberty and of the "ecumenical" aspirations of the Council.
It is not that easy to nowadays find a Catholic priest who preaches in his sermons that which is explicitly Catholic. Often times, one will hear sermons about basic principles of the Christian faith which are shared by most other non-Catholic Christian communities, or the focus is on "being a good person". Doctrine - which divides the schismatics from the Catholic Church - is often ignored. The focus is exaggeratedly put on the similarities, while the differences are almost never pointed out.

What are the problems that arise from such a mode of preaching?

They are pretty clear to me:
The Sacred Liturgy is at the heart of the Catholic life: it is the main area where catechesis on the truths of the orthodox Christian faith takes place. So, if then orthodox preaching is neglected in the Holy Mass, what is to be expected from the church-goers? They will certainly not develop a love for orthodoxy, a desire for truth. Instead, it is more plausible to assume that these would develop an attitude of liberalism: "doctrines just divide us, what matters is that we believe in Jesus and are good people. It does not matter whether one is Catholic, Lutheran, Evangelical or whatever else. To have faith in Christ is all that matters."
This is actually a very common attitude to find among protestants. One can say then, that this mode of preaching leads to a "protestantization" of the faith. Just by reading Matthew 7:21-29 and reading it in connection to Matthew 16:17-19, it ought to be clear that it is necessary - by Divine ordination - that we be in communion with the Rock, St. Peter, upon which the Church - the Catholic Church - was built by Christ Jesus. Doctrine therefore is highly relevant.
The Church is to lead us to the fullnes of truth that we may attain life eternal. Why then do certain clerics refuse to preach orthodoxy? Perhaps because it may seem "offending" to non-Catholic Christians? If that be the rule of dialogue, then conflicts may never be solved as noone would care to discuss the differing views and - based upon such discussion - to seek solutions for the problem at hand. For Christianity, this means that we wilfully and knowingly work - not actively, but passively - against the will of the Christ who prayed for Christians that "they may be one" (John 17:11). What is there to expect when one lives in a state of opposition to God's will? Certainly nothing good.

"To love is to will what is truly good for another." - St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P.

Thus, to refuse to lead people to the fulness of truth, and thus to salvation, is a sin against charity: it is a sin against the schismatics for they are left to their errors, it is a sin against the Church - the mystical Body of Christ - for the purity and orthodoxy of the faith is neither caused nor promoted nor maintained, it is a sin againt God Himself who is charity.

The other aspect of this first error, I have already mentioned above: it is the error of preaching a message primarily and solely focused on "being a good person". Now, it is without doubt, that a life of holiness should be part of Christian preaching. However, to turn this aspect to the paramount message of Christian preaching is an error. Why? Because the paramount message to be preached unto others is not a certain behaviour or lifestyle, but a person: Christ Jesus, through whom we know God. Jesus is the reason for our religion: from this flow all other aspects of Christian preaching. If one then replaces Christ, the living God, as the paramount focus of preaching, with a proposal on how to live one's life, then one may ask why one should even bother with all the religious precepts and not go directly to the essence - the core - of the message? This is precisely what is taught by the Buddha and what is promoted by secular humanism: faith in God wouldn't be the reason for our morality, but rather an unnecessary "add-on", whereas in essence the purpose of religion is to simply help a person "to live a good life".

So, while the former aspect dealing with non-orthodox preaching leads to a liberalism in the Christian faith, the latter aspect leads to apostasy, the departure from the faith.

I believe to have discussed point 1 enough, so I will move on:

to 2:

The second error in the mode of preaching is that of using "modern language to convey better to the modern man the Gospel of Christ". This error is actually what made me write this text after having watched a preacher made fun of since he used Disney figures as an analogy to explain Scriptural messages. There are those people who would claim that this style of preaching is "good", "modern", and "more easily understood by teenagers".
It seems obvious to me that this mode of preaching was conceived in the minds of older people who - thinking themselves to be young - have created a certain illusion regarding the attitude of modern-day folks of the younger generations. They probably think that teenagers would simply be bored by orthodox sermons, or by using the appropriate terminology in church. Therefore, they start using modern secular phrases and even some vulgar terms to seem "in" or "cool" in order to - so in theory - gain better access to the minds and hearts of teenagers.
It is an idea born of a good intention. However, having a good intention does not always guarantee a positive outcome of one's endeavors.

Now, observation can easily reveal the problems that arise from such a mode of preaching:
- Teenagers want to be taken seriously - both the believers and the non-believers. Thus, they want to be treated approriately by adults. They will not see themselves as being taken seriously when they see that the adults have stopped taking themselves seriously by acting in a "wannabe-teenager-like" manner when these "adults" speak to them. As a universal rule of common sense and decency, it is the younger that has to conform to the established systems of the older; it is the younger that has to show politeness and courtesy towards the older. I am not proposing the idea that adults are always right nor that they have to be followed in all they say nor that they are not required to also be respectful towards the younger. Instead, in this case, we are discussing the Christian faith: the older tend to be generally viewed as "conservative", while the younger are often considered "rebellious". Since Christianity is a religion that teaches there is Divine and Objective Truth which cannot be altered, i.e. dogma, then it is only appropriate to say that the right mode of behaviour when dealing with the Christian religion is the "conservative" style and not the "rebellious". Therefore, it is the younger that ought to go towards adulthood: it is a progressive development, not a regress which would be the case when adults act and speak like teenagers. Progress is positive, regress is negative.

Imagine a sermon by a priest who starts makes use of the stereotypical vulgar language and of typical teenage-idioms. What would?
The older people - who make up the vast majority of church-goers - would understand very little and would probably ask themselves why the priest is speaking in such an inappropriate manner in church.
The younger people would simply find the sermon a sad and pathetic attempt at evangelization. Moreover, such mode of preaching may well give rise to the notion that the priest himself does not take his own faith - of which he preaches - that seriously that he would stoop down to a level of using informal and inappropriate language.

Evangelization is an act done out of adherence to a Divine Command. When we therefore realize that the reason and end of our preaching is God, then it would be hard to use informal and vulgar language for such purpose.

However, there are people who boast of the large attendance in their "youth Masses", in their "youth churches", and in their "youth groups and events". They therefore justify the modern style of certain clerics and religious. But are these people really there because of God? Often times - and this I can say without doubt due to experience - the young people who attend such events reflect neither a proper understanding of basic Christian beliefs and much less of the orthodox Christian doctrines: what attracts them is the "hype" of the event, not God. I would claim such events to be idolatrous gatherings in which man celebrates himself rather than to worship God.

Another problem connected to "modern preaching" is the issue of indirect evangelization, indirect preaching. What do I mean by this? By this I mean specifically the religious, the Catholics who have entered into the religious life in orders, societiers or communities. In our times, one will more frequently see priests, brothers, sisters, and nuns who rarely or never wear their religious habits. Some even just use a simple cross or whatever small symbol to show - in a not directly apparent manner - their belonging to a certain religious community. Why is this problematic in my opinion?
It is problematic because of these reasons:
1) The religious takes vows to live his/her life for the greater glory of God, in His service, for the salvation of souls. The habit (the attire worn by the religious) is - akin to what I have discussed on the outward expression of prayer - an external witness or testimony to one's belonging to God. It is therefore also a means of "preaching": for it conveys a simple, yet profound message: "the person wearing this habit has consecrated himself totally to God". Now, a religious or a priest who does not wear the habit or the Roman collar (at least - since most modern priests have abandoned the cassock) seems like a person who suggests that he is ashamed of showing people his faith. It is not an explicit denial of the faith, but rather one which is sublime. I remind of the words of Jesus: "But he that shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:33).
The Christian faith is one that has to be shared, one that has to be preached: directly or indirectly. The religious attire is a means of sharing the faith with others. The visibility of habits also shows the presence of the Church in the world: we are to be the light. How can anyone follow the religious if they cannot even be recognized as such?
2) Furthermore, the habit is used to also show - in a way - that the religious are "not of this world", though they operate "in this world". It is like an outward expression of one's death to the world and total submission to God's will: the habit does away with the external differences caused by individual, secular fashion and points to a common religious testimony:
"And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me." Galatians 2:20
Thus, to reject the wearing of the habit is perhaps to insist on individualism: it is about oneself, not about God.
3) Habits make visible to people the religious. A non-religious may be compelled to study more about this way of life and consequently about the Christian faith when he sees happy people in habits; for this shows that living in accordance to God's will does not lead to "enslavement", but rather to liberty and utmost fulfillment: the Evangelion is then really understood as what it is: the GOOD message.
Not wearing habits merely points to a person, but not his religion. So occassions that may gave rise to interest in the religious life are therefore neglected.

Many religious - lay and clerics - seem to suffer under the illusion that anything pertaining to one's belonging to the Catholic Church would be like a wall which would stop others from speaking with them: as if the Catholic faith has to be "hidden" as good as possible.
A person who would refuse to talk to a priest who is visibly recognizable as such, would also not listen to an orthodox lay Catholic in "normal" clothes. The logic behind this thinking - if consequently thought out - must lead to a total refusal to even discuss or share with other the Catholic faith as this very faith would be likened to "a wall of division".
In reality - so it seems to me - the reason behind the refusal of wearing the habit or the Roman collar is either the lack of conviction or vanity.

And one may ask where modernity comes in? The modern world - especially in the West - is a relativistic, subjectivist society which is against any claims to objectivism. We live in a society of "political correctness" and of superficial unity. This modern world is not an ally of the Catholic religion: modernism is opposed to the Catholic faith. Now, this state of the world we live in today demands a lot of the Church which still has the mission to evangelize. How is the Church to evangelize in a world that stands diametrically opposed to the very truths that the Church safeguards and promotes? Certainly not by giving in bit by bit to modernism!

The solution is timeless: it was right in the ancient Church and is as perfectly right to the Church in these our modern days. The solution is to not only believe theoretically and partially, but to believe practically and totally: to live outwardly one's inner convictions. This matter of faith is can be compared to charity: it must be lived and expressed, otherwise it ceases to be.

For in the end, one can say: lex orandi et lex praedicandi = lex credendi.

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